Friday, November 30, 2007

DovBear et al: Your sympathy please.

DovBear et al: Your sympathy please.: "I had a to suffer through a speech this weekend about how Yaakov 'the leader of Klal yisroel at the time [sic]' and the shivtay ko (his 12 sons) created a besdin (formal Jewish court) that sentenced Chamor to death.

Afterwards, I cornered the man and asked him how the scrupulously halachic forefathers could have created a kosher bes din given that they were (a) related to each other (b) related to the victim.

To his credit, the man had the good sense to say he didn't know.

What was his mistake? This: He presumes the world he dwells in today existed always. In 2006 we can't imagine a great Jewish man acting outside of the halacha, and because Yaakov, obviously, was a great Jewish man, many Jews take it for granted that he was also halachic. But this idea crumbles on examination. How for instance, could Yaakov have foreseen the development of the Mishna, the Talmud, and all the subsequent codes and commentaries? That corpus, our law, is the work of men, gifted men to be sure, but men all the same. As such, the result is contingent, not inevitable. We could have ruled like Bes Shamai and not like Bais Hillel in every instance and created a Judaism that bears no resemblance to our own and God's reaction would have been exactly what it was when the court of Rabbi Yehoshua rejected the proclomation of a Bas Kol.

As the Talmud says: '[At that time] God smiled and said “My children have defeated me, my children have defeated me.”"

Condy Rice, GWB's Secretary of State, hits us where it hurts

Rice: I know what it's like to be Palestinian

The very last word on Esav as Chazal saw him

A friend of mine who is smarter than the lot of you put together, said this:

The entire picture of Eisav as a whole, which emerges from the entire corpus of centuries' worth of rabbinic literature as a whole, is more nuanced and less black-and-white than our children are often taught in preschool, grade school, and even high school. That's point #1.

Point #2 is that when viewed through the lens of historical context, it is possible that some of the negativity we have come to associate, through Chazal's teachings, with the historical figure Eisav was indeed originally motivated not by traditions regarding the character in the Bible, but by the behavior of his descendants -- the Romans -- at a particular point in history. Did the formulators of those particular midrashim think the person Eisav shared these negative characteristics, or were they using his name solely as a metaphor to describe his descendants? Who knows. We can't ask them. All we have are the words they left us, and viewing those words in the context of the worldview of their formulators leaves open many possibilities. The possibility that Chazal intended for us to view the historical Eisav, son of Yitzchak, as a person of near-unambiguous evil is indeed one, but only one, of these possibilities.

Esav sonei le’Yakov

Esav sonei le’Yakov might be the single most misunderstood phrase in the entire mesorah. So let's set the record straight. Again. (And again.)

The most famous appearance of these words is in Rashi's comment to Gen 33:4

There are dots above vayishakayhu. There is a difference of opinion concerning this matter in the Beraysa of the Sifre. There are those who explained these dots as saying that he did not kiss him wholeheartedly. R. Shimon b. Yochai said: "It is a known fact (halacha b'yaduah) that Esav hates Yaakov, but, his mercy was aroused at that moment and he kissed him with all of his heart."
In this comment, Rashi is attempting to explain the dots which appear over the word "and he kissed him." (ie: vayishakayhu) One opinion says the kiss was not a real kiss, but a bite; therefore the word is dotted. Shimon Bar Yochai goes the other way, and says the kiss was real, but the dots are needed because everything we've seen in the narrative so far indicates that Esav hates his brother, and would sooner knee him in the crotch than kiss him. Were it not for the dots, everything we know about Esav would cause us to doubt the sincerity of the kiss.

The words Esav sonei le’Yakov, therefore, should be understood as a straightforward, statement of fact about the nature of Yakov's relationship with his brother; unfortunately they are not. Instead, the words have been used for centuries to explain, and even justify anti-Semitism. It has even made it impossible for some Jews to negotiate with gentiles in good faith. Why should we bother, these Jews reason, after all Esav sonei le’Yakov.

All of this has happened because Rashby chose to describe Esav's attitude toward Jacob as a "halacha b'yaduah."

Artscroll (Artscroll!!) translates these words as "known fact" and in the notes, the editor makes it clear that the subject of R’ Shimon’s observation is Yakov’s brother, not the nation (Edom) descended from him. Unfortunately, the average Jew on the street sees the words "halacha" and imagines some imperishable rule of life has been announced. Perhaps this is what the words halacha suggests in our day; in Rashby's time, though it meant something less, something like "rule" or "fact" or "opinion."

The known opinion Rashby is citing is that Esav, the person, hated Yakov, the person. No information about the future is suggested or implied. For if Rashby had intended to give us information about the nations these two brothers would produce, he would have used the words the Torah uses whenever it speaks of those nations, and instead he would have said Edom sonei l'Yisroel.

What follows is the midrash in context, supplied elsewhere by Elder:

:דבר אחר לך לקראת משה המדברה, זש"ה מי יתנך כאח לי (שה"ש ח, ישראל אומרין לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא מי יתנך כאח לי, את מוצא כל האחים שונאים זה לזה קין שונא להבל שנ' (בראשית ד ויקם קין אל הבל אחיו וגו', ישמעאל שונא ליצחק שנאמר ותרא שרה את בן הגר המצרית וגו' (שם כא ואין מצחק אלא שבקש להרגו שנאמר יקומו נא הנערים ויצחקו (שמואל ב ב), עשו שונא ליעקב שנאמר ויאמר עשו בלבו וגו' (בראשית כו, השבטים שנאו ליוסף שנאמר וישנאו אותו (שם לז

From here its clear, obvious and irrefutable that the speaker's subject is individuals, not nations.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Jewish Thankgiving to a Free Speech Champion 3

Well, since everybody is getting into the act, I might as well, too. (Plus, a reassurance to DB that I will actually post something. ) Unfortunately, I have this thing called a job and another thing called a commute, so I haven't provided the left-wing red meat I promised yet. But I will, have no fear.

Anyway, even though I have no sense of havdala, and I also believe that the Hasmoneans were the Jewish equivalent of the Taliban, I do follow tradition, and if Hannuka is a time of Thanksgiving, then I will do so too.

Thanks to God for not zapping me with a bolt from the blue as punishment for my publishing those two accounts of my experience in the Divine Presence, one of which appeared on this very web site.

Thanks to Dov Bear for providing a place where Jews (and even non-Jews) of all streams can get together and talks and even argue about Judaism without getting too nasty. (Most of the time, anyway.)

And thanks to the Bray of Fundy for teaching me about.... well, about havdala.

Who is wise? He who learns from everybody.

Now y'all go get ready for Shabbos, hear? If an apikoris like me can do it, so can you!

Been nice knowing you Rudy! (We hope)

NYers may remember Alan Hevesi (if not, no surprise) but the point is he was chased out of office for using the comptroller's car to chauffeur around his sick wife.

To whom he was married.


Now they are saying that Rudy Giuliani provided a police driver and city car to his mistress.


To whom he was NOT married.

If Rudy, adulterer and misappropriater of public funds is still running for president next week, it is only because his name isn't Clinton, and the so-called liberal media are a pack of two faced louts.

Or, in other words IOKIYAR

Jewish Thanksgiving to a Free Speech Champion 2

Chanukah is right around the corner. "Ka'avu Shmonas Y'mei Khanukah blah blah blah blah" - "These 8 days of Khanukah were established to offer thanks/confession etc." are part of the standard Ahl Hanisim liturgy.

Although it is normally a festival to thank God, I think interpersonal thanks are definitely in the holiday spirit.

Thanks Dovbear, from the bottom of my souless heart.

I know that he posted a Ban Chaim G. poll that was to see what the people wanted. To bad Chaim G rigged it by having all his cronies and fake names vote. As a team member he has given me the keys to his kingdom and afforded me even more opportunities to voice my vulgar views.

Recently, behind the scenes, he giggled with me about Chaim G. Though he doesn't make a big deal out of it I was actually moved (not touched, that's not appropriate). Thanks DovBear. Or as I prefer to put it: .

Bye bye Rudy

Giuliani criminally expensed his adultery

Oh well. It's not like a balding, lisping, adulterous, pro-choice, pro-gay, authoritarian whackjob had much of a chance anyway. (We hope) (Trying to forget America went, in the two most recent presidential elections, for a stammering, marble-mouthed authoritarian whack job) (Failing)

All honor to Ben Smith

Jewish Thanksgiving to a Free Speech Champion

Khanukah is right around the corner. Ka'avu Shmonas Y'mei Khanukah elu L'hodos= "These 8 days of Khanukah were established to offer thanks/confession etc." are part of the standard Al HaNisim liturgy.

Although it is normally construed as an festival to thank G-d I'd venture that interpersonal thanks are definitely in the holiday spirit.

I want to publicly thank DovBear for putting up with me despite my being both an annoying pest, IHO "as wrong as the day is long" and, arguably, running his blog into the ground.

I know that he posted a Ban Chaim G. poll but I am now convinced that was pure shtick. As a team member he has given me the keys to his kingdom and afforded me even more opportunities to voice my contrarian unpopular views, perhaps win some greater understanding from readers who subscribe to the conventional wisdom and...maybe run his blog into the ground.

Recently behind the scenes he resisted manipulative machinations by a free speech bully seeking to silence me and to throw me out. Though he doesn't make a big deal out of it I was actually touched and moved. Thanks DovBear. Or as I annoyingly prefer to put it: Shkoyakh

Knocking out some kfiradika teeth

I was reminded today of an observation I made a very long time ago but forgot to share. As my friend [who will be named on request] LittleFoxling put it:
Davening is evolving right before our eyes, and I'm not that old. When I was a kid, davening ended at shir shel yom. Now a shir hamaalos has been tacked on...
To which I responded, you nusach ashkenaz bum. How can anyone take you seriously when you end your prayers at shir shel yom when its a fact that the Jews who God loves best finish up with ein kelokaynu followed by aleinu? Furthermore, you can drop this koferdik nonsense about prayers "evolving" Only nusach ashkenaz gentiles have made that unsanctioned change. The authentic, Torah True pseudo-sefard Hassidim, [aka "God's Special Guys"] still pray according to the way the holy, and god imbued 19th century printers arranged the siddur.

So untwist your knickers.

Major menorahs

Now that we've talked about gold kiddush cups, lets say a few words about the gargantuan silver menorahs you'll see adorning the windows of Brooklyn next week. Indulgent aren't they? Is this what God wants? Actually, yes. God likes it best when we perform His commandments using very expensive implements. Hidur mitzvah, the jewelers and silversmiths and that guy who owns Eichlers call it. There is a whole hierarchy, in fact, listed in the law books. Gold is best (natch) and silver is next, on down to wood and bone.

So screw the magic miracle oil, and go for the 24C gold. You deserve it. And the poor suck. If God wanted them to have nice things, the nice things would fall from the sky.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Anyone who drops 10 Large on a kiddush cup should be excommunicated

14K Solid Gold Kiddush Cup with Tray
14K Solid Gold Kiddush Cup with Tray
Have you ever wondered what to get that special person that has everything?
Our Price: $10,400
This item ships free

Who would you rather be?

Person A
I keep all Halachah but I don’t know of any rational (this world) reason or benefit for most of it. Why do I keep it then? Because I believe firmly that God dictated the entire Torah word for word, and all the Bible Academics are wrong. Also I believe the world is 6,000 years old, Adam was the first ever man, and all the Scientists are wrong. Furthermore, I can prove all of this with various proofs. And if anyone ever proved me to that these beliefs were false I would drop all of it in a minute. But of course that’s never going to happen.

Person B
I keep all Halachah because I can see the rational benefits of doing so, at least for most of it. As for the rest, it’s mostly minor details, and its perceived usefulness varies from person to person. Since it’s an ancient tradition that has been going for thousands of years, I’m very reluctant to mess with it. Was the Torah written by God? Probably not. Was it Divinely Inspired? Who can say? There’s no way of determining that. But Judaism has a long and venerable history, we have achieved great things, and I perceive Orthodox Judaism to be highly moral in general and a great community and lifestyle. Of course it’s not perfect, but it’s better than the alternative. The question of how exactly 'Divinely Inspired' it all is doesn't bother me, because either way it's a valuable system, and I'm extremely proud to be part of the traditional Jewish community, for rational reasons alone.

Lifted whole cloth, from XGH, who concludes with this:
For some strange reason, a few of my commenters think that Person B is not viable or sustainable as a community, but Person A is going mechoyil ad choyil.
I agree with his commenters, but not for theological reasons. I'm far more pragmatic, and its clear to me the game is fixed. Marc Steyn, author of the lovely obituaries that appear on the last page of every edition of the Atlantic, famously says that the future belongs to the fecund and confidant. I'm not sure Person A is confidant - can a community that defines itself against everyone else, while stifling questions and punishing non-conformity be called confident? - but there's no doubt he knows how to breed.

Meet the president of Esav's fan club

...right here

The Esav Enigma

Elsewhere, my friend Chaim is attempting to tell us that Esav was the epitomy of evil, and he's using midrashic matrial to defend his point. Nice try, Chaim, but Yaakov Menken played the same cards two years ago and was brought up sharply. What follows is part of the post that did it:

.........midrash isn't a monolith. The great majority of agadic wisdom is contested by other parts of the agada. A great example from last week's parsha: The 12 sons of Jacob married their sisters, right? Well, no, not according to Rav Nechamia, who says they married Canaanite women, the same sort of Canaanite women who gave their grandfather Abraham night terrors and cold sweats.

The teaching about Esav's absolute evil is also contested, as follows:

Statements about Esav that are not completely negative
-- Gen. Rabbah 65:16 (No one honored his father better than Esav)
-- Gen Rabbah 67:4 (Jacob was wrong to make Esav cry by taking his blessing, and he was later punished for this via the loud cry issued by his decendant Mordechai)
-- Avot de-Rabbi Nathan: 47, 130 (Esav shed three tears when Jacob took his blessing, the first two caused the destruction of each temple, and the third temple won't be restored until the third tear dries.)

There may be plenty more, but this is all I came across in six seconds of searching.


Ok, now, let's get serious: Why do we think that Esav's link with Rome and anti-semitism is an undisputed fact of Jewish life? Answer: Rabininc polemics.

Before Esav could be linked with anti-Semitism, he needed to be linked with Christians. And before he could be linked with Christians he needed to be linked with Rome. That first occured in the second century.

Esav appears as a stand-in for Rome only after the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 C.E.). Until then Esav was generally just a symbol of godlessness and bad stuff, inspired, most likely, by that verse at the beginning of Malachi. Before the Bar Kokhba Revolt, there's no specific equation of Esav with Rome. (Incidentally, early Christianity also depicts Esav as godless, rejected, and bad: a significant point because the earliest Christians were virtually indistinguishable from Jews.)

As to why he became equated with Rome at that point, the answer's clear: Beitar marked the end of a century-long Roman war against the Jews, the most grevious violence against the Jewish people until the Final Solution. (That's the social and political context often missing when we study aggada) The ratio of Jewish dead in turn-of-the-century Palestine may well approximate one in three. Notably, the first sources to equate Esav with Rome are following the BK Revolt, when the Jews began to write about their defeat at the hands of Rome and to interpret it. Like all violated and defeated people, they also demonized their vanquishers, in the language of their "street," which as you might imagine, was spiritual. (If you listen carefully, you can even hear echos of this in the way that conquered Palestenians speak of Jews)

Two of the first agadic links of Esav and Rome

Lamentations Rabba 2:4:R. Yochanan said: The voice is the voice of Jacob (Gen. XXVII, 22)--the voice [of distress caused by] the Emperor Hadrian, who slew eighty thousand myriads of human beings at Beitar. (If the voice was Jacob, it follows that Esav was the hands.)

Tanhuma Terumah 3: In an imagined exchange between R. Akiva and Tinneius Rufus, the Roman tyrant specifically links himself with Esav and the proof-text from Malachi: "Why does the Holy One so hate us that He wrote, ‘But I hate Esau’?" The fact that R. Akiba was there tells us it couldn't have been long after the revolt. It should be remembered however, that Rufus was no Christian.

To sum up: The idea that Esav (formerly just a generic bad guy with some redeeming qualities) was Rome appears to have entered the popular imagination after Beitar. Later, when Rome became Christian, the Christians appear to have inherited the negative distinction. This was done by people who needed to explain their defeat in spiritual terms. It was a way of saying, "Ok. We got our heads handed to us in this world, but upstairs, where it counts, God likes us more."

The Mystery of the Muqata and the Missing Tefillin

Jameel's son has lost his tefillin in a heavily religious Israeli neighborhood. Will they be returned? Will Jameel's son ever daven again? Will our expectations and smug perceptions be dashed by a shocking twist? (Yes, yes, and yes)

Don't miss the The Mystery of the Muqata and the Missing Tefillin, now playing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Walking Into a Manfield


DovBear recent post about Dear Uncle Esav led me to check the source Midrashim.

In Bereshis Rabbah 63:10 I came across this gem that complicates my hashqafa on homosexuality even further:

וַיְהִי עֵשָׂו אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד, אִישׁ שָׂדֶה="and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man (of the) field".

Apparently bothered by Esav being described as a "Man Field" rather than a "man who knew the fields/ a capable farmer" the Midrash has this to say:

Rebbee Khiya said: "he made himself hefker/owner-less as a field" (i.e. "that whoever wanted to sow their seeds in him was welcome to do so"- Rashi and Matnos Kehuna ad locum. To update and explicate the discreet metaphor this means that he "played catcher" in promiscuous homosexual activity) Said Yisrael before HKB"H " Master of all worlds, is it not bad enough that we be subjugated to 70 nations that we must also be (subjugated) to this one who approximates a woman in intercourse? (you're all welcome to try your hand at translation the Hebrew reads: אף לא זו שנבעלת כנשים) HKB"H responded: "I will exact my vengeance from him (Esav) with the same words [Jeremiah Chapter 49:22] וְהָיָה לֵב גִּבּוֹרֵי אֱדוֹם, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, כְּלֵב, אִשָּׁה מְצֵרָה/and the heart of the mighty men of Edom at that day shall be as the heart of a woman in her birth pangs. "
(i.e. that "she had sex and was impregnated"- Rashi ad locum).

In other words Esav was bisexual. (His many sons enumerated in the Bible and his many adulterous conquests slammed in the Talmud and the Midrash suggest that he was quite adept at hetero-sex.)

There are many telling attitudes and, some might say, prejudices revealed in this khazal. Among other things there is a deep revulsion to the homosexual act. At the very least in its passive receptive form when practiced promiscuously. Some might argue that this is because, being obviously libidinous towards women, his same sex activity is deemed willful and an exercise of free choice and not something that he was hard-wired to do and beyond choice. IMHO this is a stretch

Moreover, as Esav is the archetype for the "anti-Jew" THE goy, and when this critique of his effeminate homosexuality is taken contextually (grouped together with being scattered in golus among 70 nations) there is something decidedly un-JEWISH about these behaviors. So antithetical in fact that it deepens and darkens the golus experience. In Rebbe Khiya's words, K'lal Yisrael feels a deeper sense of OPPRESSION being under the thumb of this manfield/woman. Though this Midrash was probably composed under Roman occupation it might also allude prophetically to our contemporary golus when radical gay activists attempt to coerce their value system upon society at large and when "Queer eyes" are at the cutting edge in fashion and art.

Finally, it may be another dig at Esav's defining hypocrisy. Not just the pious fraud but the macho fraud as well. Big, tough, virile Esav is in reality a man-field i.e., a woman. EVERYTHING about Esav is an illusion, a sham and a fraud. Indeed, reality and truth in this old alma d'shikra of ours where Esav and his minions are ascendant, are always more than a mouse click away.

On the Rambam they've got you coming and going

My friend the former Godol Hador has a post up about some little known Rambam teachings which aren't accorded quite the same level of respect as his famous ikkarim. For instance, the Rambam thought Hebrew developed contingently. He also disbelieved in magic and said that many episodes presented by the bible as historical fact were really dreams experienced by the episode's protaganist. [Paging Bobby Ewing]

Is any of this accepted by the average Orthodox Jew? NO! So riddle me this: Why is it impossible for an OJ to DISAGREE with the Rambam about the incorporeal God, while simultaneously being impossible for him to AGREE with the Rambam on demons or magic?

Edomite Kings

Lubov has a post up about a verse at the end of vayishlach that seems to have been dropped in by a later scribe. Yawn (I say "yawn" because this is an old problem, and one known to the classic commentators. )

More cognitive dissonance dancing.

Through VIN, I see that 13 of our Republican friends in Congress have voted against funding a museum of Jewish History in Warsaw. [The other 407 members, including hundreds of republicans, voted Yes] That's fine, I suppose, and if I cared to think about it, its possible I'd end up agreeing with the 13 nay sayers: I mean, why should we be spending American money on a Polish institution?

But get this. One of the VIN commenters, a GOP Jew, no doubt, has a much better explanation:
The republicans voted against it, because their track records shows they support jews, while the Democrats, need votes like these to try to prove they are not anti jewish.
Makes perfect sense to me!

The Best Of Elmo

If just one person believes in you,
Deep enough, and strong enough, believes in you...
Hard enough, and long enough,
It stands to reason, that someone else will think
"If he can do it, I can do it."

Making it: two whole people, who believe in you
Deep enough, and strong enough,
Believe in you.
Hard enough and long enough
There's bound to be some other person who
Believes in making it a threesome,
Making it three.....
People you can say: believe in me.....

This Elmo song, Sesame Street: The Best of Elmo - Just One Person, is filthy.

[DB- The picture was worse, which is why I took it down.]

Monday, November 26, 2007

A gfit from me to you

Someone representing Oh! Nuts' [] has asked me to let you know that a ten percent discount will be yours if you use code HBP1118 when you make your next purchase from their online store.

For your reference, the letters and numbers can also be found on my sidebar.

Things that make you go, "Good freaking god"

Thing is, it seems plausible to me... (click to enlarge) (hat tip on request)

Write your own post on Genesis 32:4

Here are the sources you will need:

1: The Masoretic Text

ויצו אתם לאמר כה תאמרון לאדני לעשו כה אמר עבדך יעקב עם לבן גרתי ואחר עד עתה
(I don't have a font for the cantillation, but the comma, or asnachta, is under the word "לעשו" See it here)

2: Christian Translations

King James Bible: And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau: "Thy servant Jacob saith thus, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now..."

American Standard Version: And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye say unto my lord Esau: "Thus saith thy servant Jacob, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now..."

3: Robert Alter's note on this verse (click to read)

4: ArtScroll's translation (click to read)

[For those I may have lost]

I'm asking a question on ArtScroll. The cantillation of the verse suggests that "To my lord Esav" is not part of the message. This is picked up by the famous Christian translations which have (something like) And he commanded them, saying, This it what you should tell my lord Esau [STOP]: "Your servant Jacob says, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now..."

Using the work of another scholar, and ANE letters, Alter argues that "To my lord Esav" is part of the message. Thus: This it what you should say [STOP] "To my lord Esau, your servant Jacob says, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now..."

ArtScroll, oddly, follows Alter and not the MT's cantilation.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Help this Jew

What DovBear is about

This a is a personal blog, a place where I empty my head and discuss matters that interest me with like-minded people. There's no agenda, no plan to change the world, and no interest in winning converts to my cause (There is no cause.) For lack of a better metaphor, please consider this blog a very large shabbos table where we sit together and discuss the parsha, the news, and other events of the day. Sometimes we yell, often we gossip, and, once in a while, the talk turns salacious. Occasionally, our arguments are lively; at the end of the day, though, its all just talk.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Anah and the mules: backstory

Around Rosh Hashana time I dropped a throwaway reference into a post: "... it was really Mayim that Ana found it the desert only by mistake the first two lettters got swapped."

From my mail, I know that many of you were oblivious to my intentions. Now, thankfully (Get it? Thankfully? Ha!) my friend mevasertzion explains all.

Mara mekomot
MT ואלה בני צבעון ואיה וענה הוא ענה אשר מצא את הימם במדבר ברעתו את החמרים לצבעון אביו ׃
These are the sons of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah-- he is the Anah who found הימם in the wilderness when he was pasturing the donkeys of his father Zibeon.

LXX: και ουτοι υιοι σεβεγων αιε και ωναν ουτος εστιν ο ωνας ος ευρεν τον ιαμιν εν τη ερημω οτε ενεμεν τα υποζυγια σεβεγων του πατρος αυτου
And these are the sons of Sebegon; Aïe, and Ana; this is the Ana who found Jamin in the wilderness, when he tended the beasts of his father Sebegon

Vulgate: et hii filii Sebeon Ahaia et Anam iste est Ana qui invenit aquas calidas in solitudine cum pasceret asinos Sebeon patris sui
And these the sons of Sebeon: Aia and Ana. This is Ana that found the hot waters in the wilderness, when he fed the asses of Sebeon, his father:


Salt and Straw


The rabbis teach that [Esav] did perform the mitzvah of honoring his father, and he even asked his father about the need to take tithes from salt and straw - which of course is completely unnecessary, and represented Eisav's ability to appear religious when it suited his purpose.

If you've studied Rashi as an adult, you know his commentary isn't an anthology of midrashim. Frequently, Rashi cites a midrash out of place or out of context. He'll change the meaning of a midrash, or choose one or two midrashim from among several on the same subject. Rashi does all of this, I believe, because in his commentary, midrashim are used for a specific purpose, namely, they serve to smooth out rough spots in the text, and to resolve difficulties in the language of the Torah.

Rashi's object, you see, isn't to share or to popularize midrashim, but to " give... Aggadah which serve to clarify the words of Scripture in a way which fits its words" (Gen 3:8)

The midrash cited at the begining of this post is, I believe, an example of Rashi doing violence to the plain meaning of the midrash for the sake of rescuing the text from a perceived anamoly. Gen 25:28 reads: "And Issac loved Esav because of the game in his mouth." (tzayid b'fiv) This is a hebrew idiom, which suggests Esav as either a kind of lion bringing home food in his mouth, or as a mother bird dropping worms into her chick's gapping beak. In either case, it's a material and, therefore, difficult explanation for Issac's favoritism. The plain language of the text make Issac look shallow, and weak, and more than a little absurd. For Rashi, this is unacceptable. Therefore he tells us "But, its [ie tzayid b'fiv's ] Midrashic interpretation is: "With the mouth of Eisv" [meaning] he would trap him and trick him with his words

Trap him and trick him how? The answer Rashi gives appears on the previous verse, Gen 25:27, where we're told that "Esav was skilled in trapping, a man of the field, and Jacob was a simple man, a dweller in tents." The perceived anamoly here is that the second part of the descriptions ("man of the field" and "dweller in tents") are roughly atithetical; the first parts ("skilled in trapping" and "simple man") are not.

The Hebrew adjective tam suggests integrity, or even innocence. To create a diametric opposition between the first and second parts of the description, "skilled in trapping" needs to be construed as the opposite of tam. Three examples of Esav's duplicity are provided in the midrash, and Rashi chooses one, and only one, to illustrate the point, writing " ..he would ask him: "Father, how are salt and hay tithed?" [Though, he actually knew that there is no requirement that these items be tithed.] His father would thereby think that he meticulously observed the mitzvos."

I don't know why Rashi selected the bit about the straw and hay over the two other examples of Esav's dishonesty provided by the Midrash, but I will argue in Part II that the story itself has been misunderstood by readers of Rashi.


..he would ask him: "Father, how are salt and hay tithed?" [Though, he actually knew that there is no requirement that these items be tithed.] His father would thereby think that he meticulously observed the mitzvos."

Many readers of Rashi use the story of the salt and straw to suggest that Esav was a pious fraud. Like the men who wear large shtreimals, but cheat on their taxes and skip davening, Esav, in their conception, was a master of deception, who used sincere-sounding questions to deceive his father. Indeed, Rash picks us on this idea by comparing Esav to a pig, a non-kosher animal that extends its forelegs as if to show off how kosher it is, fooling all who allow themselves to be deceived.

Midrash is not a monolith, and the midrash's view of Esav, especially, is complicated, and full of competing and mutually exclusive ideas. Though it is true that some of our Rabbis did think of Esav as a pious fraud, I will argue that the author of the salt and straw story decidedly did not.

First, let us recognize that midrash isn't history. It isn't telling us that such a conversation actually took place. If you went back in time, you would not find Esav and Yizchack discussing tithes. Rather, this story was created by the author of the midrash for the purpose of conveying an idea.

To understand the author's purpose we must begin with the blessings Yaakov received when he was dressed as Esav. They relate entirely and exclusively to the physical world: tal hashamayim ushmanei haaretz; the dew from the sky and the fat of the earth. Later, at the end of the story, when Yaakov leaves for Aram and is no longer disguised, his father blesses him again, this time saying: ve’yiten lecha es birkas Avraham; he passes Avraham’s spiritual legacy on to Yaakov.

It would seem from this that Yitzchak's intention was to let Yaakov stay in his tent and live a life of contemplation and study; while, Esav, the man of the field, contended with the world and provided for his religious brother. If, as most of our Rabbis say, Yitzchak was planning for the future of the Jewish nation when he blessed his sons, perhaps he was also setting up a sort of Holy Roman Empire (forgive the ahistorical reference) with Yaakov, as Pope, in charge of the nation's spiritual life, and Esav, as Emperor, responsible for feeding and protecting and otherwise sustaining the religious center.

Esav, having grown up in his father's tent, and eaten at his father's table, was aware of this plan, we can assume. The salt and straw midrash tells us that its author thought Esav was unhappy with this plan.

In the ancient world, salt and straw were important preservatives. Salt protected meat from spoiling, and straw was used as a packing material, or as insulation. Yitzchak planned for Esav to be Yaakov's protector, to serve as his straw and salt. The Midrash says Esav asked "How are straw and salt tithed (or "fixed" in the language of the original midrash) Conceptually, this is like asking "How are straw and salt brought into the relam of holiness?" By putting such a question in Esav's mouth, the author of the midrash is letting us know that, in his view, Esav wants something more. He doesn't want to spend his life merely sustaining Yaakov; instead, he wants a holy purpose, too.

I'll leave it to others to explain why, in the fullness of time, this more-positive image of Esav was lost. My guess it has to do with the fact that Esav was, at the turn of the millenium, linked with Rome. Before that association was made, I suppose, more positive opinions of Esav could be entertained. Not so once the Rabbis had paid themselves the compliment of associating the super-power of the day with their own great ancestor's twin brother. From then on Esav was evil, unmitigated, and unredeemable. The salt and straw midrash gives us a glimmer of another point of view.

More silly memorabilia

Chestnut from Anne Frank tree for sale on eBay

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Curious Jew: YU and NCSY Dinner & Discussion

Worth reading

The perfect gift for the sniveling, sychopantic, authority-loving, drooler on your holiday list!

The image at right comes from one of the most exciting and important publications of the year: The 2008 Official RNC Calendar. Yours for only $25! Order now!

[Photo at right: Three guys who blow.]

האל בית אל

Here's a fun fact to know and tell about Targum Onkelus, Targum Yonatan and a superfluous letter ה

Genesis 31:13:
אנכי האל בית אל אשר משחת שם מצבה אשר נדרת לי שם נדר עתה קום צא מן הארץ הזאת ושוב אל ארץ מולדתך
I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.

Though it flows nicely in translation, האל בית אל is non-standard. Rashi, of course, manages to smooth it out, writing: The same as אל בית אל the letter ה being superfluous It is usual for Scripture to speak this way as in [another example of a superfluous ה].

Hmmm. So the ה is not needed here, but, per Rashi, it isn't unusual for the Torah to occasionally throw in an unnecessary ה. In other words: Move along, nothing to see here.

Both Targum Onkelus and Targum Yonatan deal differently with the problem. They translate the verse as: I am the God that appeared to you in Beth El. [Two extra words in Hebrew]

This is also the translation provided by a third, less famous Targum, the Targum Shivim [Scroll to 31:13]

....vhamaskil yidom?

Surely this blogger is insane...

...everyone knows Democrats are Godless, immoral, bible-hating, pagans

Monday, November 19, 2007

Some notes on the character of Jacob

For your consideration:

1 - The verse tells us Esav won his father's heart with food. In the very next verse - immediately afterwards, so to speak - we see Jacob preparing a stew.

2 - Esav comes in from the field famished, and on the verge of death. Jacob takes advantage of the situation and trades a bowl of lentils for Esav's dearest possession.

3 - Jacob deceives his father with a goat, and acquires great wealth at Lavan's expense using goats. Later, his own sons deceive him with a goat.

4 - Jacob deceives his father with a garment. Later, his own sons deceive him with a garment.

5 - When his sons deceive him, they use the same verb for recognition that the text uses when we're told that Issac didn't recognize Jacob.

6 - Jacob takes advantage of his father's blindness and deceives him. Later, he is deprived of his own sight by the darkness of night and is deceived by Lavan and Leah.

7 - On the night before his reconciliation with Esav, Jacob is maimed by a mysterious stranger. The name "Jacob" Robert Alter tells us, can be construed as "he who acts crookedly." Along with wounding him, the stranger changes his name. Does this injury, (and the attendant name change) on the eve of his meeting with Esav serve to "straighten him out?" (See Rashi on the spot, who says: "it will no longer be said that the blessings came to you through deviousness ('oqbah) (hear the echo in Yaakov?) but, instead through lordliness.") Perhaps the wrestling match with the stranger is meant to illustrate Jacob's battle with (and eventual victory over) his own worst impulses?

8 - On the morning after the wrestling match, we are told that the "sun rose upon him" Nachum Sarna has observed that when Jacob's departure was marked by the setting on the sun. Now, his demon conquered, his crookedness corrected, his exile completed, the rising sun welcomes him home.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Seriously, I have too much time on my hands

When I ran the letter from Leah last year, a very funny, educational, comment thread resulted. At the time, Holy Hyrax said the responses deserved their own blog.

So here it is

[Note: The formatting isn't great, and some of the smartest, funiest stuff is way at the bottom]

Leah's Lament

Our mother Leah has asked me to republish her annual complaint:

Dear Jewish People:

Each year, at parshas v'yatze, the Jewish boys and girls all come running home with Rashi's story: "Leah cried day and night. Leah cried day and night. Boo hoo hoo."

But don't you pious people do shnayim mikra v'echad targum? And doesn't the targum (Onkelos) translate the verse about my eyes this way: "And the eyes of Leah were beautiful."

Why yes, I think it does.

And, furthermore, those of you who study Torah like grownups, may have noticed that the Rashbam ALSO says that my eyes were beautiful.

BEAUTIFUL. Not soft from crying, but BEAUTIFUL.

So why isn't their more positive view in circulation? Why am I remembered as the bible's Moaning Myrtle instead of as the chick with the drop-dead gorgeous eyes?


Also, I know you shrewd Jewish businessman prefer to think of Jacob's scheme with the sheep as the archetype example of Jewish cunning. And, yes, that was a pretty neat swindle. But how about my acquiring a night of hot love for the price of some lousy flowers? That doesn't impress you?

Yours Sincerely,
Wife of Jacob

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Levin's rain dance via Yeshiva World (shockingly, it doesn't end with a cloudburst)

Be prepared to cringe.

Quality post

About midrashim

Why was Isaac blind?

Why was Issac blind? The answer to this question is a wonderful illustration of Rashi's way with midrashim, and also an indictment of how our children are taught in the typical Yeshiva.

The average Torah tyke (and alas, some Torah tykes have long beards and wrinkles) (Torah-tyke is my phrase. You can' t use it) the average Torah tyke will tell you that our forefather Isaac lost his sight because the tears of angels fell into his eyes when he was tied to the alter. This is problematic: (1) Angels aren't physical, so how could they produce physical tears?; and (2) why would their tears be corrosive to Isaac's sight? I could cry in your eyes, for example, without doing any damage.

Explaining this midrash is beyond the scope of this post (also, I haven't completely worked it out yet) but if you look in Rashi, you'll see that he gives two other reasons for Isaac's failing sight:

(1) The smoke from the sacrifices offered to idols by Esav's Hittie wives;
(2) Done by God, for the purpose of delivering the Blessing to Jacob.

You might also, notice that some editions put the bit about the tears in brackets, suggesting that it does not appear in every variant reading of Rashi.

Also, if you refer to Rashi's source material, you will see that there are two other explanations, which Rashi does not use:

(A) Abimelech said to Sarah (Gen 20:16): ולשרה אמר הנה נתתי אלף כסף לאחיך הנה הוא לך כסות עינים לכל אשר אתך ואת כל ונכחת׃ (unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was reproved.) The midrash construes this as a curse of blindness, which fell on Isaac, Sarah's child

(B) The blindness resulted from looking at his evil son Esav (the author of this aggadah held that looking at bad people degrades the eyes) (the author of this aggadah also held Esav was evil)

So what gives?

Rashi's comment, in which he mentions just two (or perhaps three) of the available explanations serves to address the juxtaposition of the information. We're told Issac was blind immediately before the blessing story begins. Why? Because the blindness was manufactured by God for the purpose of the blessing (see 2) We're also told about Esav's Hittie wives, and the foul odor their sacrifices produced, immediately before we're told about Isaac's blindness. Why? Because the smoke caused his eyes to fail (see 1 above)

(Those who argue that the the story about the tears was originally included, and not added by a later scribe, say that it is there to explain why the smoke affected Issac, and not Rivka, ie: his eyes had already been weakened by his experience on the alter)

The other two explanations (A and B above) can not be used to address a textual issue, and this Rashi excludes them. Unfortunately for the Jewish people, our children are rarely -if ever- given this sort of insight into Rashi's method and thinking. Instead, they are fed the tale of the tears as if that was the sole authentic Torah True explanation, when, in fact, there are four others. Instead, they grow up thinking the Rashi is a midrash anthology, which he is not.

Rashi on Christians

Saw this last shabbos:

Eisov is compared to a pig as it is said... When the pig lies down it stretches out its hooves as if to say, "See, I am a clean animal." So, too, those who rob and extort yet make pretensions of being honorable.

Rashi doesn't spell it out, but it seems obvious to me that he's speaking of Christians, Esav's presumed descendants. This short comment, therefore, tells us something about how Christians behaved in Rashi's time, and also what Rashi thought of it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Did the Patriarchs keep the commandments? Summary of sources.

Gen 26:5
עֵקֶב, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקֹלִי; וַיִּשְׁמֹר, מִשְׁמַרְתִּי, מִצְו‍ֹתַי, חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי
...because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.

This is the famous posuk that causes legions of yeshiva boys to imagine the Patriarchs assembling eruvim and slaughtering goats in honor of the Passover. Usually, they attribute the idea that Avraham and his family followed every jot and tittle of the not-yet-revealed divine law to Rashi, but in fact its found first in the Talmud, tractate Yoma, where an odd aggadah announces that they kept an observance (eruv tavshilim) designed to solve a problem caused by a holiday that hadn't been invented yet.

On the spot, Rashi cites the Gemarah, not to praise the Patriarchs, but because he's spoted an anamoly. The verse says Toratai. Two torahs? Ah, answers Rashi: We mean the writtten and the oral. Both were kept by our ancient forefathers.

Rashbam, pace his brilliant grandfather, does not agree. He says, that the ikar pshuto (his words) is that the word "Torasai" means only the 'obvious mitzvot' like stealing, adultery, coveting, justice, and welcoming guests. These rules were in affect before Matan Torah, (paging Plato) (or see here) but were renewed and expounded at Sinai. In short, Rashbam is not troubled by the use of a plural (Torasai) and unlike Rashi, has no reason to rely on the midrash for pshat. According to him the Avot kept the "obvious laws" and nothing else.

Chizkuni, Ibn Ezra and Radak agree with Rashbam in general, but not on the particulars. All three agree with Rashbam, and reject the Midrash, along with the idea that every divine law was known to the Patriarchs, and observed by them. However, they each give a different defintion to the words מִשְׁמַרְתִּי, מִצְו‍ֹתַי, חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי. For instance, Chizkuni says "Torah" means Avraham's original trip to Israel (based on a use of the word elsewhere) whereas the Ibn Ezra says "Torah" refers to the mitzvah od brit mila.

(There's a long post I could write about how the Chizkuni, Ibn Ezra, Radak and the Rashbam disagree on the meaning of מִשְׁמַרְתִּי, מִצְו‍ֹתַי, חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי in a way that reveals their individual approaches to pshat, but naah: that's why God gave us Josh Waxman)

Meanwhile, the Ramban pays homage to Rashi and the midrash, and finds a way to reconcile it with the plain fact that the Avot did NOT follow the commandments (Yaakov's sister-wives being just one example) but, in the end, concludes that Torasai means only the actual mitzvoth he was given: e.g. Brit Milah & Noachide laws. Nothing more.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rashi and anachronisms

I see via GH (who after two years has finally conceded the truth of my central religious argument) that Divrei Chaim has made a convoluted attempt to explain Rashi on Gen 19:3 [1 and 2] and other anachronisms in the commentary.

Here's the Rashi comment in question [1]:

ויפצר בם מאד ויסרו אליו ויבאו אל ביתו ויעש להם משתה ומצות אפה ויאכלו׃
But he insisted so strongly that they came with him and went into his home. He prepared a feast for them, and baked some flatbreads, and they ate.
Rashi: And baked some flatbreads: It was Passover

Asks Divrei Chaim:
What do we make of Rashi? Rashi seems to be addressing a simple textual question... If you dismiss Rashi as “derash” and not pshat, what does that mean? – did Rashi waste his time composing “fictional” answers to explain troublesome details in the text? Or to put it another way, if Rashi knew it was irrational or improbable for Lot to have really kept Pesach and eaten matzah, then hasn’t Rashi failed to answer the textual question he posed?"
The problem, I think, is that DC has a post-enlightenment way of looking at history, and can't quite wrap his head around the fact that Rashi -for all his brilliance- did not. We're modern. Anachronisms bother us. Rashi was from a different time and place, a foreign country in LP Barthartley's famous phrase. Anachronisms didn't bother him (His commentary, and the Midrash upon which most of it is based, are chock full of them.) Nor did they bother the non-Jewish geniuses of his time (See Anselm of Canterbury who imagined God as the fuedal lord of the word, and interpreted the Jesus story from that perspective.) We worry about the little details of history. We want to know exactly what Lot served the visiting angels. Rashi was different. As a man of the 13th century, he just didn't care. He was a critic, concerned about the words on the page [2], and a halachist, concerned about Jewish law. He was not a historian in any sense, but certainly not a historian in the modern sense.

1 - I could argue that Rashi's view of 19:3 isn't necessarily anachronistic. Suppose we were to corner Rashi and ask him what happened in Sodom on the night before the destruction. We could ask him three different questions: (1) Were matzot really served?; (2) Was it really Pesach?; and (3) Did Lot bake matzot because he somehow knew that in the far off future his uncle's descendants would be commanded to eat them in memory of an event that was yet to occur? I'm certain Rashi would say "yes" to the first two questions, but if he were to answer "no" to the third, his comment isn't an anachronism.

2- In particular, Rashi wants to know why the word "feast" is used to describe a meal that consisted of the poor man's bread. His answer, despite what you may have heard about Rashi, didn't arrive via ruach haKodesh. Its right from Berashis Rabba. (Not having seen this particular midrash in many years, I can't tell you what its author was attempting to address, but I'd bet serious money that it was not written to tell us the facts of history[3]. Midrashim rarely attempt to tell us what happened. They almost always serve to give us some lesson or explanation. Because Rashi often re purposes midrashim, the fact that Rashi uses this one to explain why the feast Lot prepared was so pathetic is not proof that the midrash was written for that reason, too.)

3 - This, incidentally, is the other problem with the DC approach. Along with construing Rashi as a historian, he construes midrash as history. True, the midrash says that the angles visited Lot on Passover. However, it doesn't follow from this that it actually was Passover or even that the author of the Midrash believed it himself. The Ramchal says that moral and metaphysical lessons are hidden in midrashim. Perhaps the author of this particular midrash said that the visit occured on Passover for the sake of some moral lesson he wished to convey[4].

4 - Or perhaps he really thought it was Passover. We have no way of knowing.

[*] Its also possible that the words ומצות אפה were added by a later scribe/editor/redactor who wanted to make an editorial point about the salvation of Lot and connect it to the later salvation of the Jewish people. This is the sort of thing Midrash does all the time, so it doesn't seem far fetched that an scribe/editor/redactor might try it, too. But that's another post

Good for the Jews?

The story of George Koval "one of the most important spies of the 20th century" was told yesterday on Page 1 of the New York Times. Koval was a Jew, from Souix City, Iowa, who lived and was educated in the Soviet Union, after his parents emigrated to Birobidzhan, the Siberian city that Stalin promoted as the Jewish homeland. The Times ran the story because Putin posthumously honored Koval, this week.

(I'm struggling to make some larger point about Jews being successful in every endeavor, but it isn't coming. I also have a few words to say about Jews and Communists. Maybe, I'll update the post later.)

Parsha Vocabulary

A guest post by Efrex

One that you might find interesting:

Analysis of Ya'akov's deal with Esav (lentils for birthright) has to include consideration of Esav's physical state at the time of the deal. How seriously are we to consider his claim that "I am going to die?" Most commentators seem to take this statement homiletically (see Rashi); however, I think there's reasonable basis in the text to take it more literally.

The earlier pasuk describes Esav as being "ayef," generally translated as "weary," "faint," or "tired." These translations give the idea that Esav was just in need of a good night's sleep; however, this is not the proper connotation of "ayef." Throughout tanach, "ayef" has a connotation of being in extreme need of sustenance. Esav was *objectively* famished from lack of food, and may well have been in dire straights.

I have not comprehensively looked through every source in my concordance, but so far, everywhere I've looked (8 places and counting), Onkelos consistently translates "ayef" as "Meshalhi." This word is the basis (see mo'ed katan 2a) for "bet hashalchin," a field that is in desperate need of watering (and, according to the gemara, can be watered on Chol hamo'ed). Just from the pesukim quoted in the concordance, I would be very surprised to find a different translation elsewhere.

In sum: Esav was not simply exhausted from his sinful ways; he was in significant physical danger, and Ya'akov withheld food until he obtained the bechorah. This does *not* mean that Ya'akov was wrong to do so (the pasuk specifically states that, his physical condition notwithstanding, Esav "despised" the birthright), but it puts the lie to any apologetics as being true to the plain meaning of the text.

Your thoughts?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Dos this mean I won?

GH: What the frum skeptic should do is to look in another place entirely - they should look to religiously inspired personalities who are fully cognizant AND ACCEPTING of modern science, Biblical criticism and all the rest. The biggest chizuk to me are the various Rabbis (and bloggers) that I know, many of whom come from Conservative or even secular backgrounds, who know and accept Science, Archeology, Biblical Criticism and all the rest, and yet still find religion in general, and Orthodox Judaism in particular, to be noble and inspiring, and even 'true' in some sense.

Friends, this might be the concession of the century, if not the millennium, and I accept it graciously. (I hope.) Those of you who joined late, and have no idea what I am talking about, or otherwise fail to appreciate exactly how monumental this is, are going to have to email me, or stay mystified. (It isn't nice to publicly remind a convert of his past errors.)

"Zeh haya poshut bal'agan"

Life in Israel: News clip about the bus attack in Bet Shemesh (video)

Crazy ways to waste your money

Remember that old Partridge Family episode when Danny raised some money by selling a pickle his brother Keith had bitten?

This is totally the same thing.

Hat tip on request

YOM does not mean DAY

The official view of the blog skeptics is that the word YOM as it appears in Genesis, means DAY, and any attempt to translate it differently is a kvetch and inadmissible. This, I must say, is precisely the same objection raised by Pablo Christiani during his famous disputation with the Ramban.

After the Ramban translated the word YOM as era (as part of his effort to prove, via Midrashim, that the Messiah had not yet arrived) Pablo accused the Rmaban of kvetching the meaning of the word YOM. To prove his point, Pablo brought in the first Jew he found on the street and asked him to define the word "YOM."
"It means DAY," said the Jew

"Ha Ha!" said Pablo.

Replied the Ramban: "My Lord King: This Jew is certainly a better judge of the matter than Pablo Christiani, but not better than I. The word YOM in scripture means TIME."
This view of the meaning of the word YOM was shared by Rashi, who on Gen 24:55 translates the word יָמִים as year.

[I recognize that this does not disprove the theory of evolution, nor does it prove the legitimacy of the Torah's account. I also recognize that the word in Berashis is YOM not יָמִים .]

Haredim on YNET

Some will say it is the usual anti-Chareidi nonsense, but they make for good headlines nevertheless:

70% of ultra-Orthodox men don't work

Rise in number of abused haredi women

Hat-tip: The Beadle.

But Hillary's lips gently brushed against Suha Arafat's face!!

When will the morons who unreflectively vote Republican [*] get over their cognitive dissonance and admit that their man, and his administration have done more to undermine Israel and to further the cause of a Palestinian state than any previous president?

The latest is this: "U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has again referred to Hamas as a "resistance" movement during a meeting with reporters from the Dallas Morning News, WND has learned. Rice's remarks, transcribed in full on the State Department website, mark at least the fourth time in recent months America's top diplomat has used that terminology for Hamas during unscripted remarks with reporters."

Time to face facts, GOP Jews.

[*] If you REFLECTIVELY vote Republican, you might not be a moron.

The open-ended prophesy

The open-ended prophesy is a favorite trick (among many) of psychics, astrologers and clairvoyants.

There are two famous examples of this:

(1) The answer the Delphic Oracle gives Crœsus when he asks about attacking the Persians. The Oracle said:"If you attack you will destroy a mighty empire." Crœsus attacked, but destroyed his own empire.

(2) The reply Rivka receives when she "she went to enquire of the Lord" She is told "...and the elder shall serve the younger," in Hebrew וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר. As Robert Alter says, the Hebrew syntax leaves unclear which noun is subject and which is object -- "the elder shall serve the younger" or "the elder, the younger shall serve."

Friday, November 09, 2007

Another New Girl Blog

Ok, new to me. Here's a typical post of hers from 2006
Like I said typical
See what I mean?

Anyway, belated welcome.

Agudath Yisroel: Pathetic whiners

I like the idea of Ze Nehene Vze Lo Chaser which roughly means that when someone else benefits, and you lose nothing, you should keep quiet. Unfortunately, Agudas Yisroel does not appear to be of the same mind

Report: The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill banning workplace discrimination against gays.... [snip] Agudath Israel of America, expressed regret at the passage, saying it did not go far enough in protecting religious employers.

Protection? Protection from what? Having gay people in your office? Oooooooh. Newsflash: I'll bet you 1 million dollars that Agudath Yisroel already employees at least one closeted homosexual. And amazingly enough the world continues to spin on its axis.

Anyway, the claim/worry that the rights of Jewish employers are jeopardized by this legislation is completely bogus. Jews have no religious imperative to oppress homosexuals. We aren't banned by Jewish law from associating with them, or from hiring them. You can work side by side with a homosexual without offending Jewish law. To do so, is perfectly and completely mutar. And, because we have no religious imperative to avoid homosexuals, no religious right of ours is imperilled by this legislation.

In other words, Agudath Yisroel are a bunch of whiny bigots.

Put up or shut up time

A modern Honi HaM'agel [*] has been invited to work his spiritual magic down south.

Reports the JTA:
Rabbi Yehuda Levin will perform an ancient prayer ritual Wednesday seeking divine help to end the drought in the South, the Christian Newswire reported. Levin reportedly performed the ritual in 1986, after which there was four days of rain.
Here's how this is going to go down.

If it rains
R' Levin will:
(1) Claim success

If it does not rain
R' Levin will:
(1) Blame someone (ie, the liberals, the gays, the skeptics) eg: "Their sins, have made my prayers useless." [Never mind that this is kfirah, in that it denies that God is all powerful. Its still how the ultra pious play the game.]
(2) Never mention the failure again.

Incidentally, this is how it works in the mentalist game. Once, when the Big Ben clock stopped working, Uri Geller claimed credit. Oddly enough, no mention of this famous failure [Wait till the video gets to the Johnny Carson show] appears on his website (and take note of who Geller blames)

Important note: This post is no reflection on prayer. I'm sure it works (maybe) It's also no reflection on Rabbi Levin. I am sure he believes it works, is confidant in his own powers, and isn't defrauding anyone.

[*] Honi is a famous rain maker

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Why don't BHMs like feminists?

Our old friend Toby Katz says:

I will tell you something true and funny.

When I was a girl of about 20, I once had a letter published in the Sunday NY Times Magazine. In my letter I made fun of an article they had run about the need to change words like "chairman" and "manhole" to gender-neutral words like "chairperson" and "personhole." In my letter I said that maybe I should change my last name to Bulperson, or maybe Toreador?

After that boys from Lakewood would not go out with me. Why? "She wrote a letter to the NY Times, something about feminism." "Yes, but the letter was making FUN of feminists!" "Doesn't matter, she wrote a letter to the NY Times. Pasul!"

I was so exasperated that I added to my list of requirements in a shidduch, "Must be able to read and understand the daily paper."

Now, I will tell *you* something true and funny. If it werent for those feminists Toby hates, the only thing she would be writing is grocery lists and minutes to PTA meetings.

I'll never understand the animosity the average BHM directs at feminists. Probably its ignorance. They don't grok that feminism is about choices, meaning that you can choose to stay at home and have 6000 kids, if you wish. Only woman who don't wish to do that should have other options and not be locked into some predetermined role.

You'd think someone such as Toby, who can both read and understand the daily paper, would know that.

(Toby's 1974 letter to the Times is at the top right. Click to enlarge. )

A deep, deep question

You know how a malach comes when you're born and pinches your upper lip to make you forget all the Torah you learned in the womb? What I want to know is, do women also learn Torah in the womb? Do the malachim that teach boys Torah before they're born also teach girls, and do they teach them the same things? If girls don't learn Torah before they're born,why do they have a pinch under their noses? And if they /do/ learn Torah before they're born -- /why/ do they? Boys learn Torah before they're born so that when they learn Torah again, it will be a review and thus easier to learn. But girls?
---Guess who

Those cheeky brits

I see via he-who-must-not-be-named, that a beefeater band welcomed the crown prince of Saudi Arabia to Buckingham palace with a tune selected special for the occasion: Darth Vadar's theme (The Imperial March)

See the video

And be sure to contrast the British welcome with the kissing-Suha manner in which Abdullah was greeted by Israel's best friend ever.

Jews at their worst

Paranoia, ignorance, fear-mongering, misogyny, name calling, bigotry, the misuse of spurious anecdotes... its all at this Yeshiva World post.

The point of this post is the fourth footnote

Was trapped in a car last night with a fundie, RWNJ who crushes heavily on Laura Ingraham [1]. She was on the radio, taking calls from one person after another complaining about the new alliance between Oceania and Eurasia Rudy G and Patty R. It all sounded something like this:

Caller 1: I am a Christian believer who goes to church every day, and I am deeply offended that a man of faith [2] and a minister of God such as Pat Robertson has aligned himself with someone who isn't Pro Life

Caller 2: I am deeply disappointed, praise God, that one of God's finest servants[3] has announced his support for some one who would allow the abortionist nightmare to continue.

Caller 3: Pat Robertson is a sell out, and he is gambling with the lives of unborn babies

And so on and so forth. [4]

For her part, Laura seemed to think that Patty is an old fool, desperate for relevance. She also was disappointed to see a purported Conservative betraying "core Conservative values" like gay-baiting, freedom, and intolerance [5]. I do give her some credit, though, for scoring points off Patty's claim that Rudy is "a good Catholic."[6]


[1]She claims to be a "True Conservative" yet exposes huge swaths of personal skin on her website.
[2] Try not to snort
[3] Really
[4] I want to know why Jews, weren't calling in the Leah Ingraham show, or whatever the Torah True equivalent of her show might be, to complain about Rudy getting into bed with someone who has many times announced his desire to convert us all. Could nut-job Christians be more deeply principled then nut job Jews? Possible, I suppose.
[5] Not exactly what she said, but you get the idea.
[6] Two divorces, adultery, friendly to homosexuals, pro-life, goes to church only when the cameras are there, etc.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

With my shpitz berdel (goatee)

I'm more Yekkish looking than the Deitsch (German) himself.

If the Surgeons lose her on the table...

will they be accused of Deicide?

Golden Oldie

More than two years later, this post's comment thread still makes me laugh out loud.

Rudy Grows a Beard

The Times reports the Rudy "9/11" Giuliani has grown a beard.

Pat Robertson, noted lunatic, gave Rudy an endorsement and some needed cover with god-drunk evangelicals today. The serial adulterer and lover of homosexuals is said to be "happy." Meanwhile NYC waits for an apology from Pat Robertson, noted lunatic, for saying that 9/11 was God's way of getting even with "pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, lesbians, the American Civil Liberties Union and the People For the American Way."


While researching this story I discovered that Pat Robertson, noted lunatic, believes 2007 will be a very bad year for America. Via Wikipedia I see that "[o]n January 2, 2007 during the 700 Club show, Robertson said that God spoke to him and told him that "mass killings" were to come during 2007, due to a terrorist attack on the United States. He added "The Lord didn't say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that."

[CWY and the neocons probably think we should torture God until the plot's secret details come spilling out of Him; unfortunately, that episode at the Red Sea makes us doubt the efficacy of waterboarding the Lord of Hosts. ]


The olam is also reminded that Toby Katz suffers from a long, unrequited crush on Pat Robertson, noted lunatic. Let's hope those two love birds get together one day.

Morons here, morons there...

...I see morons everywhere.

Yesterday, I introduced a new acronym, BHM (black-hat-moron) to the DovBear lexicon (joining GOPJew and KefiyaTalis as phrases invented here.)

But what exactly is a BHM? See below (and for the sake of comparison and fairness, I've also defined MOM (modern-orthodox-moron))
Michaper Kol Averot (forgives all sins)His hatHis Zionism
At kiddush, will knock you over to get:Kugel (burnt and greasy, please)Sushi
Cause of all suffering in the universe:Short hemlines / The New York TimesMuslim Arabs / The New York Times
Nightmare of nightmaresAn unmarried 19-year old daughterA meshulach at the door
Dream of dreamsA 5000 sq foot house, with a Lexus sedan in the drive and jealous neighbors next doorA 5000 sq foot house, with a Lexus SUV in the drive and jealous neighbors next door
Sin that's not really a sinTax fraud, bigotry, cheating at business.Mixed swimming, fish at non-kosher resteraunts.
Favorite mitzvahSitting in a bes medrash, drinking coffee, and "learning" Voting Republican
How he makes decisions: Decisions? Huh? I just ask my Rav. Is is good for Israel?
How he learns chumash: Rashi is always right! (Unless the Little Midrash Says disagrees, in which case teku.) Scours texts to develop apocalyptic scenarios involving crystals and space aliens, all having zero basis in legitimate commentary
How he learns gemarah: Chazal are always right! (Only modernishke herr doktor scholars look at Rishonim) Gema-what?
Favorite holiday: Lag B'omerYom Ha'atzmaut
Ditches his wife, family and all household responsibilities to: Sit in a bes medrash, drink coffee, and "learn" Play poker and/or attend sporting events
Has a child named after: Fauna (ie: Dov, Tzvi, Ze'ev)Flora (ie: Ilan, Tomar, Daphne)
Favorite blog:Yeshiva WorldDovBear

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Rav and the Red Sox

The local smart people have been chewing over the fact that the Rav rooted for the Red Sox. I have a few things to add to the discussion:

1: Big flipping deal. It tells you how deeply we've become buried in BHM [*] culture if we think its strange or unusual for a man, even a man who happens to be a genius and a godol b'torah, to be mildly interested in sports (No one says the Rav was a fanatic)

2: The protagonist of Potok's In the Beginning, David Luria, attends YU, and his rebbe, say those in the know, is a dead ringer for the Rav. Though the character isn't a citizen of RedSox nation, he does pepper his language with baseball metaphors. When a student gives a good answer he growls, "A single, Luria, that was a single."

3: Harav Hagaon Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg Shlita is a Yankee fan. I know this from first-hand experience and observation. I wonder if he and the Rav ever trash talked each other?

[*] BHM= Black Hat Moron (TM) All rights reserved to DovBear

My Video Of The Year

Vote here

Name the holiday:

When do we stand around the bonfire, reciting prayers or chants, and other extensive sets of rhymes?

Fake Graves

The Church of the Holy Sephulcher is (arguably) the most famous grave in the world. It is also (arguably) a hoax.

Built in the middle 300s, on the site of a Temple to Venus, by men working for Emperor Constantine, the Church is said to cover the grave of Jesus, but this identification is specious. Soon after the great council at Nicaea, the emperor's newly converted mother, Helena, embarked on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During her trip she had the marvelous good fortune to discover both the true cross, and the nails of the crucifixion. According to the ArtScroll style legends, Helena was aided in her discovery by a Jew - and here's a coincidence for you - named Judas. After his coreligionists found out about his betrayal he was forced to convert, the location of the true cross, of course, being one of those essential Jewish secrets.

Anyway, Sephulcher was built on the spot of her discovery.

My point? Only that fake graves are old news, so this bit of religious dishonesty doesn't surprise me in the least.

Side bet: I have $5 million that says each of us who are currently Orthodox will have at least one great grandchild who, in say 2090, will be willing to fight a "skeptic" who denies the authenticity of this grave. Sad, no?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Did you see the Kugel letter GH posted?

Its positively bril

(second from the top)

We call this irony

God promises Abraham that he'll be made into a great nation, and the whole of the land of Canaan will belong to him.

In the next story his first son is imperilled.
In the story after that, his second son is imperilled.
Then, for a change of pace, he's forced to haggle with a clique of self-important Hitties about an overpriced burial cave.

This, ladies and genteleman, is called IRONY.

Besuel (Warning: Kefirah level high)

When Abraham's servant meets Rivka's family, her father Besuel appears as an actor only once [1], and in the middle of the story, but not afterwards. Rashi solves this problem by introducing a midrash: But, where was Besueil [her father]? He wanted to prevent [Rivkah's leaving] [therefore] an angel came and killed him. [2]

However, this doesn't explain why no mention of Besuel is made at the beginning of the story. For example: After Rivka gives water to the servant and his camels she runs to her mother's house; afterwards Lavan alone comes out to greet him [3]

Indeed, Robert Alter says there is good evidence that his appearance in the middle of the story is a scribal insertion (ie: in the original text, he wasn't mentioned AT ALL for reasons given below.) Evidence of this includes that previously mentioned fact that Rivka's home is called "her mother's house"
and that when Besuel does get his mention he shares the scene with Lavan [1], yet the introductory verb stays singular (וַיַּעַן לָבָן וּבְתוּאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ)

Relying on ANE documents, Alter says that it was the common cultural practice for the eldest brother to lead bridal negotiation, while the father sat silently. He suggests that a scribe, writing after the custom had disappeared, corrected the text by inserting a mention of Mister B. [4]

[Note: This is all speculative, and I have no idea if Alter is right or wrong. Also, I don't care. The Torah is still the torah even if corruptions and maculations were introduced along the way.]

1 - Verse 50: "Lavan and Besuel answered and said..."

2- Other Rishonim say the opposite, and claim that Besuel name is omitted because unlike the mother and the brother, he supported the match. You are invited to contact your second grade rebbe and ask why these Rishonim are not taught. I'd love to know.

3 - Yes, thanks, I know that Rashi has explanations for Besuels absence in both cases, that do not rely on Alter's spin.

4 - He also suggests that Besuel had died before the servant arrived. This, and not the ANE cultural practice, is a better explanation for Rivka running to her mother's house, and a fatherless Rivka is nicely symmetrical to the motherless Issac.


Rashi was one of the best at spotting and solving textual anomalies, often using midrashim, or even modified midrashim, to explain away the problem. Once in a while, though, Rashi adresses an anomaly, that may have been nothing of the sort, and his solution enters the popular imagination, becoming one of those things that "everybody knows".

An example from this week's sedra:

The verse [Gen 25:1] says: And again, Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah, but every school child is taught to ignore the plain meaning of the words on the page [1], and to instead accept that Keturah was Hagar. Why? Because Rashi said it. And why did Rashi say it? For one reason, and one reason only [2]: In verse 6 the word pilagshim is choser, ie: with no vav yud. Says Rashi on the spot: "It is written lacking [to denote] that there was only one concubine, [ie Hagar]"

Only, hold on: In the MT the word is malay (spelled with a vav yud.)

Rashi's comment here, like many of his comments, is based on a midrash, in this case one found in Berashis Rabba. This suggests that the Midrash's author also had a text with a vav-less yud-less pilaghshim (which in turn suggests that our Torah's text is defective)

Alternatively, its possible that the midrash in Berashis Rabba isn't addressing the text at all. The midrash continues (and Rashi cites this elsewhere, though in the midrash the two thoughts are not seperated) that Hagar is called Keturah because her deeds were beautiful like incense (Keturah puns on incense) [3]. Perhaps Hagar is construed by the midrash as a meritorious woman for the glory of her husband Abraham, and not because of an anamoly in the text. It would not be unlike Rashi to use a midrash written for one purpose to address another.

Given the Rashi does not cite every single Midrash [2], I thinks its reasonable to conclude that we are only aware that the midresh said Ketruah and Hagar were the same person because of an accident, the accident of Rashi's choser text.


[1] Alas, no school child is taught that the Rashbam disagrees with both Rashi and the misdrash and insists that Keturah was a third wife, and not Hagar redux. You're invited to complain about this to your local school authorities.

[2] I expect those of you who don't know how to learn Rashi are already yelling: "One reason only? What do you mean? It's in the midrash!" You are reminded that Rashi does not cite every single midrash. He picks and chooses among them for two purposes. As he says himself on Gen 3:8: There are many aggadic midrashim, and our Rabbis have already arranged them in their proper setting, in Breishis Rabbah and in other collections of midrashim. I have only come (1) to give the simple meaning (pshat) of Scripture, and (2) for aggadah that resolves the words of Scripture...

[3] Rashi also suggests that she was called keturah because "she "tied her womb" and did not mate with any man from the time she separated from Avraham" ["Tied" also puns on keturah.] This explanation is not found in BR, but is from Pirkei de R. Eliezer

Friday, November 02, 2007

One last note on Vayerah

There's a famous Rashi on 18:22 which reads as follows:

והלא לא הלך לעמוד לפניו אלא הקב"ה בא אאצלו ואמר לו זעקת סדום ועמורה כי רבה והיה לן לכתוב וה עודנו עומד לפני אברהם אלא תיקון סופרים הוא זה אשר הפכוהו ז"ל לכתוב כן
But is it not so that he [Avraham] did not go to stand before Him [God]? Rather, it was God who came to him and said to him, "The wailing concerning Sedom and Amorah is so great," and it should have been written: "G-d was still standing near Avraham," but, it is an emendation of the Scribes.

Mizrachi tells us that this does not mean that the scribes actually rewrote the verse, rather it was given, by God, using the sort of respectful language a scribe might use. Instead, of saying God remained in front of Avraham, its written the other way around for the sake of the honor of God.

All good, except for one thing: In some early editions of Rashi, the comment concludes with five additional words:

אשר הפכוהו ז"ל לכתוב כן
which those of blessed memory reversed writing it thus.

These words aren't in the standard mikraot gedolot, nor are they included in the Stone or Sapperstein Chumashim. However, surprise, surprise, they do appear in the Gutnick edition!

What gives?

I imagine the Stone editor excluded the troublesome words because they are not in mikraot gedolot and Stone doesn't even pretend to be scholarly. Saperstein has more to answer for [as Fred told us last year] but OK: They don't promise to include every variant reading in Rashi, and this one, arguably is kfirah, so perhaps you can make a case that it didn't come from Rashi's pen.

But Gutnick? What in the world is it doing there?

Someplace else where Gutnick beats ArtScroll

A new find

Heh heh

Also awesome (same blog, different post): I’d like to suggest a new policy. Whenever someone says “im yirtza Hashem by you” with their head slightly tilted and their voice overly kind, punch them in the nose.

Why are Jews so smart?

Slate Magazine has an article on this old, and uninteresting question that sheds little light on the subject. It cites a man named Murray who argues "anyone who was Jewish and stupid 2,000 years ago found "it was a lot easier to be a Christian."

Let's not embarrass the man for his math mistake (there were no Christians 2,000 years ago.) Say, 300 years ago instead. Why would the stupid people switch sides? Usually, those who left went at the point of a sword, or because there was money to be made in the outside world. Not because they were intellectually embarrassed.

Update: The explanation we passed around in Yeshiva went something like this: Among the Jews, the smartest people were most likely to become Rabbis. Rabbis were most likely to have large families, and rabbinical families were most likely to be protected when Cossacks came calling. Ergo, lots of brainy offspring. Meanwhile, among the Christians, the brightest lights entered seminaries and had no children. After several hundred years of this, the difference can be seen in the IQs. How's that for natural selection?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Should I ban Chaim G.

Has the bray worn out his welcome? Please vote here.

Update: The Bray stays
Clarification: The problemn with Bray isn't his message, but his manner. His ideas aren't frighting or threatening. He's just annoying. And a community has the right to bannish annoying people if it so desires.

Maybe this is Chaim G.'s problem

Too much dopamine.

As scientists probe deeper into the brain for what underlies superstition, they have found a surprising suspect: dopamine, which usually fuels the brain's sense of reward. In one study, two groups of people, either believers in the supernatural or skeptics, looked at quickly displayed images of faces and scrambled faces, real words and non-words. The goal was to pick out the real ones. Skeptics called more real faces non faces, and real words non words, than did believers, who happily saw faces and words even in gibberish. But after the skeptics were given L-dopa, a drug that increases dopamine, their skeptical threshold fell, and they ID'd more faces and words as real.That suggests that dopamine inclines the brain to see patterns even in random noise.

I'd love it if someone were to do this to a mofes performing rebbah

Criss Angel is a professional magician and judge on NBC's Phenomenon, a reality show about mentalists. Per Wikipedia, Criss told Larry King, "no one has the ability, that I'm aware of, to do anything supernatural, psychic, talk to the dead. If somebody goes on [Phenomenon] and claims to have supernatural psychic ability, I'm going to bust them live and on television."

Last night, after Jim Callaham pretended to summon a dead person, Angel followed through with his promise [Video] and almost got his nose broken for it. [Full performance]

Now, how cool would it be if Criss or someone like him were to do the same to rebbas who fake miracles for the purpose of defrauding the public? You know the kind. They look at your mezzuzot and pretend to see deep secret things about your love life. Or maybe they do some mumbo jumbo to remove an ayin hara from a loved one. Stuff like that. All bogus.